A Rainier High School student on the precipice of his young adult life died just two weeks before his high school graduation.
Hundreds of community members came out for a vigil Friday, May 21, on the Rainier High School football field in solidarity after the untimely death of RHS Associated Student Body President Riffe Holmes, a senior who died unexpectedly Thursday, May 20.
As of press deadline, Holmes’ autopsy report was not available so a cause of death had not been identified, though he did have diabetes.
“It shook us pretty good,” said Rainier High School Principal John Beckman of Holmes’ death. “It shook our whole community. … We’re all still pretty shook. It’s a pure tragedy, a kid that close to graduation.”
Beckman said Holmes was a staple of Rainier High School. His family has deep roots in the community as a whole.
“He’s a kid who’s been here all the way through elementary school, all the way up,” Beckman said. “Our senior class is a pretty small class, less than 40 kids. Riffe is a kid that pretty much every kid in our school would know.”
Beckman said Holmes was a popular athlete, and was anything but a follower, taking several leadership classes from ASB leadership teacher Sandy Rossmaier.
“Riffe is — Riffe was — very charismatic,” Rossmaier said. “He was absolutely amazing. I think he made everybody feel special. He just had a special light about him that just shined.”
She said Holmes wasn’t just an athlete, but a scholar as well, excelling in all the classes he took with her.
While athletics was important to him, he was in it for more than just himself, regularly devoting his time to sports camps for Rainier youth.
“Not only was he a great football player, a great baseball player, but he went and helped the little kids,” Rossmaier said. “He was all about helping others get to where he was. So when something tragic happens like this, it affects our school K through 12 (grades).”
He wasn’t just ASB president for the entire school, chosen by popular vote, but he held office in the student government other years as well, holding positions like treasurer or sergeant-at-arms, she said.
And his compassion went further and deeper than sports camps or the charisma that could win ballots in his favor, Rossmaier said.
“He was popular with all the kids,” she said. “He wasn’t an elitist. He genuinely loved everybody and Jesus, too, and he made sure to tell you that.”
Rossmaier said Holmes loved being involved and often lent a helping hand.
During his work in student government, Holmes developed and initiated a fundraiser called the “Holiday Bazaar,” which brought together local artisans and student groups that peddled their wares, turning the district’s hall of education into a chamber of Christmas commerce for the benefit of the school.
Holmes cared about the environment as well. He started and operated the recycling program at Rainier High School and the district’s middle school.
“During his leadership class period, he would pick a partner and they would (collect) all the recycling in our buildings, both the high school and the middle school and the district office,” Rossmaier said.
She said all of his contributions to the school and the community paint a picture of his character to everyone who knew him.
“He was just involved in a whole lot of ways, accounting for just passing on that shiny light that he had,” Rossmaier said.